Reviewed by Menaka Raman-Wilms
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club is a memorable, consuming story. The book follows several individuals through a day during a February storm in St. John’s, where personal conflicts collide at a small restaurant in town. While the snow piles up on the streets outside, Iris, John, Damian, Olive and George are dealing with their relationships inside. As the day turns into evening, tempers flare and emotions rise, and secrets begin to unravel.
The novel is about the lives of these characters as they work to make a living in the city. It’s an emotionally consuming book, as it deals frankly with sexual assault and different forms of manipulation. It explores the intricacies of controlling relationships, and the devastating nature of both emotional and physical assault on women.
The writing is poignant and crisp. At 422 pages, the novel is a bit of a longer read, but the story keeps a steady pace because the events unfold in a single day.
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club moves from the perspective of one character to another, and so the reader is given the chance to immerse themselves in each individual experience. Coles seamlessly weaves those multiple stories together, which allows the reader to understand each character’s journey on a personal level, and at the same time see how it connects to the lives of others.
Though the characters are vivid, they do run the risk of falling into stereotypes: every man is in some way cruel, inconsiderate or manipulative, and every woman is manipulated and victimized. The book also leaves the reader without a clear sense of resolution or justice. However, this does seem to be part of the point, as it reflects the messiness of real life. By resisting a hopeful conclusion, the story also lingers with the reader long after it’s over.
Ultimately, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club is a book that raises difficult truths. It draws attention to issues that are often ignored, and shines a light on the experiences of women that have for too long been downplayed or overlooked.
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club is published by House of Anansi Press.